Ebola, one of the most aggressive viral diseases known to mankind, saw a recent outbreak in 2014-2016 in the western region of Africa – this was the most deadly outbreak since the discovery of the virus, but where on earth did Ebola come from?
Ebola, known as Ebola Hemorrhagic fever, was first reported in 1976, an outbreak occurred, with 318 documented cases, near the Ebola River (this is where the virus takes its name) in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). When first discovered, it was thought to be the mosquito-borne infection, Yellow Fever, but it was soon revealed to be far more aggressive than this.
There are 5 different strains of the virus, with only 4 affecting humans and the fifth only affecting other primates. However, Fruit Bats are thought to be the natural reservoir for the virus and have played a key role in spreading it; this is because in some parts of Africa they are hunted for as food and carry the disease without symptoms. Even though the bats are cooked before eating them, handling an infected bat will increase the risk of contracting the virus.
So for those who enjoy eating these Fruit Bats… I’d think twice if I were you…
“How do I contract the virus and what will it do to me?”
The Ebola virus is spread by bodily fluids and uses our immune system to spread the disease throughout our body, causing our organs to fail and shut down. The body’s excessive inflammatory response from the virus causes internal/external bleeding which leads to high fatality rates. Although, whilst there are no approved treatments for Ebola, it is advised by WHO (World Health Organisation) that intensive supportive re-hydration care is the best way to improve survival.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa was thought to have occurred in a small village in Guinea surrounded by forests which habitat Fruit Bats, one child developed the symptoms of the disease from which they died in December 2013. Only a few weeks later, the child’s immediate family had developed similar symptoms, and so had the medical staff treating them, unfortunately all dying from these symptoms.
It seems likely that due to the deforestation of the surrounding forests which were the Fruit Bats habitat, it brought potentially infected bats into closer contact with humans, resulting in human infection.
The widespread of disease was exponential, patients with similar symptoms started appearing in cities/towns all around Guinea. The confusion and speculation of what the disease might be was increasing rapidly. By March 2014 WHO had confirmed the rapidly evolving disease was Ebola, with a reported 49 cases and 29 deaths.
The disease then spread to several neighbouring countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, creating an epidemic. The outbreak became more extensive when cases were then reported in the UK, USA, Italy, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Spain. By 19th August 2014, there were a documented 2240 cases and 1229 deaths, by 2016 there had been 28,652 cases making this the largest Ebola outbreak to have ever occurred.
In July 2017, WHO declared an end to the outbreak.
Fortunately, a vaccine was developed by the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory named, rVSV-ZEBOV. This potentially game changing vaccine was distributed in March 2015 as a trial to eliminate further spread of the virus. Out of 4123 participants vaccinated, none developed the virus post 10 days after vaccination. This vaccine looks promising – an antibody detecting technique, called an ELISA, was used to detect antibodies in humans. Antibodies to the strain of Ebola that caused the outbreak were observed in all participants in the investigation. This vaccine is believed to stimulate specialised white blood cells, called T-helper cells, to mediate an appropriate immune response when exposed to a live version of the virus.
Had this vaccine been available a year before, thousands of lives could have been saved.
This vaccine is in early days of being licensed, but once it’s fully ready, this could be the breakthrough in preventing further outbreaks.